144. Vladimir Beara
Croatian-born Vladimir Beara was one of the finest goalkeepers in the world through the 1950s and rated by his contemporaries as one of the best of all-time. He won a multitude of domestic honours during his club career with Hajduk Split and, after a very controversial transfer, with Red Star Belgrade. Beara was also a mainstay of the gifted Yugoslavian team of the 1950s, representing his country in two World Cups and reaching the Olympic final in 1952.
Beara was born in the village of Zelovo near Sinj near the border of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, on 2 November 1928. As a youngster he took ballet lessons, something which served him well in his later career as he became renowned as one of the most agile and flexible goalkeepers in the game. Having originally trained as an electrician, he was spotted by Hajduk Split in his late teens while training at his local stadium, impressing scouts with his jumping ability.
In the early years of his career, Beara developed what would become an exceptional handling ability by training for hours with a much smaller ball. He would later state that this regular routine meant that catching a football seemed extremely easy in comparison. Having broken into the first team at Hajduk during the 1947-48 season, Beara immediately became the club’s first choice goalkeeper and would remain so for the rest of his career at the club.
After second and third place finishes in his first two seasons, Beara’s first major honour came in 1949-50 when he helped Hajduk to claim the league title with an unbeaten record, conceding just 13 goals all season. That record led to him being named in Yugoslavia’s squad for the World Cup in Brazil in 1950, without having actually yet made an international appearance, but he did not appear in any of Yugoslavia’s games in the finals.
In the autumn of 1950, Beara got his chance at international level when he came on as a late substitute for long-standing first choice keeper Srđan Mrkušić in a humiliating 7-2 defeat to Austria, and from then on was a regular in the team. One of his most famous performances for Yugoslavia came shortly afterwards, when a string of fantastic saves helped his team to earn an unlikely 2-2 draw against England at Wembley, the first overseas team to avoid defeat there.
Beara won a second league title with Hajduk in 1952 and joined up with the Yugoslavian suqad for that summer’s Olympic Games in Helsinki. Despite Beara conceding five goals in an astonishing 5-5 draw with the Soviet Union in the first round, Yugoslavia came through a replay and went on to reach the final against an immensely talented Hungarian side. Hungary were too strong and ultimately won 2-0, but Beara did save a penalty from their star player Ferenc Puskás.
By now Beara’s athleticism and lightening quick reflexes had earned him a reputation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers. He had a unique style of defending set plays, being famed for refusing to allow his team-mates to form defensive walls for free kicks, instead preferring to be able to look the kicker directly in the eye. His reputation led to a call up to the Rest of Europe team to face England in the FA’s 90th anniversary game, in which he appeared for the second half.
Although he only appeared in half of their qualifying games, Beara helped Yugoslavia reach the 1954 World Cup without conceding a goal, and was first choice for the finals in Switzerland. He kept a clean sheet in the vital opening win over France and made a number of vital saves in the 1-1 draw with Brazil which saw Yugoslavia into the last eight. In the quarter-final against West Germany, Yugoslavia missed a huge number of goalscoring opportunities and their hopes were severely damaged when Beara picked up an injury. With his mobility limited, he conceded twice and Yugoslavia lost 2-0, a result Beara considered to be the unluckiest of his international career.
In 1954-55 Beara won the third league title of his career with Hajduk, impressively leading the team to the best defensive record in the league. Red Star Belgrade were keen to sign him and amidst rumours that the transfer had been forced by the authorities, he made the move to Serbia in the summer of 1955. The move was an immediate success as Red Star won the league in Beara’s first season at the club, with Hajduk only narrowly avoiding relegation without him.
Red Star duly retained their title in 1957 and went on to win the cup a year later with a crushing 4-0 win over Velez Mostar in the final. They reached the quarter-final of the European Cup in 1958, where Beara appeared in what would prove to be the final match for Manchester United’s legendary ‘Busby Babes’ team before the deaths of eight of their players in the Munich Air Crash. which occurred as they returned home from Belgrade.
In the summer of 1958 Beara appeared in his second World Cup. Although Yugoslavia struggled at times in the group stage, they did move through to the last eight largely thanks to an impressive 3-2 win over France. Beara however was replaced for the quarter-final, again against West Germany, and Yugoslavia lost 1-0. He was facing increased competition for the number one jersey and won just three more caps after that tournament, his 59th and final international coming in a 4-2 loss to Hungary in 1959.
In the 1958-59 season, Beara helped Red Star to a league and cup double and when they retained the title again in 1960, he had won seven championships in just eleven seasons with Hajduk and Red Star combined. After five years in Belgrade, he became one of the few eastern European players of the era to move to the west when he joined West German side Alemannia Aachen. Sadly for Beara, his time in Germany was dogged by injury as he twice broke his right leg in the same place.
Beara’s playing career came to an end with a season at Viktoria Köln in 1963-64. When Russian Lev Yashin was named European Player of the Year in 1963, he stated that it was Beara rather than himself who had been the world’s leading goalkeeper of the era. Staying in West Germany to study coaching, he managed Freiburger FC and Fortuna Köln as well as Dutch side RKSV Sittardia, before returning to Hajduk as an assistant coach. In 1971 Beara helped the club to win their first league title since his departure as a player some sixteen years earlier.
Beara later spent two years in charge of the national team of Cameroon in the mid-1970s and also coached First Vienna in Austria and Hajduk’s city rivalas RNK Split before retiring from management in his mid-50s. Having remained living in Split in his retirement, Beara has continued to watch Hajduk whenever possible, despite seeing a modern obsession with tactics as having removed much of the romance from the game in comparison to his playing days.